- TikTok for the first time is sponsoring a racecar driver, per an announcement. Ryan Vargas, who belongs to the No. 6 Johnny Davis Motorsports Chevrolet team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, will drive the TikTok-branded car in six races starting on Oct. 3 at the Talladega Superspeedway.
- The sponsorship is part of TikTok's promotional efforts during Latinx Heritage Month, which is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Vargas, a 20-year-old Hispanic alumnus of NASCAR's "Drive for Diversity" program, has more than 41,000 followers on TikTok, while NASCAR's official account has about 735,000. TikTok and NASCAR will work together on several co-marketing efforts to highlight the sponsorship and Vargas' personal story, per the announcement.
- As the embattled social video app continues to push into sports marketing, TikTok's branding also will appear on the racing suit worn by Vargas, who will wear a Dia De Los Muertos helmet as a tribute to his Hispanic heritage.
By sponsoring the 20-year-old Vargas, TikTok aims to connect with young NASCAR fans who are most likely to use the app. TikTok disclosed that it has 100 million users in the U.S., including 50 million people who check in with the app every day. About a third of its users are ages 10-19, while 30% are ages 20-29, per data compiled by Statista. While the average age of a NASCAR television viewer is 58, per Statista, its digital fan base tends to be younger. Half of NASCAR's digital fans are ages 18 to 49, according its media kit, making that audience a key target for TikTok.
The timing of the sponsorship with Latinx Heritage Month is part of TikTok's effort to support diversity and inclusion, which has become a key theme for marketers seeking to reach younger audiences. TikTok's target audience of Generation Zers is the most ethnically diverse group in U.S. history, and they tend to prefer brands that demonstrate social awareness and authenticity. TikTok's sponsorship of Vargas, who is described as an "avid TikTokker," is an important step in its diversity efforts.
TikTok's sponsorship of a NASCAR driver follows other recent efforts to connect with sports fans in the U.S. The video app has run several promotional efforts with the NFL, including the #GoingPro hashtag challenge during the league's yearly draft of college players. Before that, the NFL's #superbowlliv challenge asked football fans to share their team spirit during Super Bowl weekend. TikTok's global reach and popularity among younger audiences have led other sports leagues like the NBA and the International Cricket Council to share highlights and other content on the social video app.
The timing of TikTok's sponsorship of a NASCAR driver is notable, as there is still the possibility that the social video app will be banned in the U.S. because of national security concerns. For mobile marketers in the U.S., the possibility of a ban may outweigh other considerations about utilizing the app for campaigns.
Ideally, TikTok will avoid being banned in the U.S., either through a favorable judgment in federal court or from a sale agreement that's satisfactory to the Trump administration and the Chinese government. TikTok's parent company ByteDance, which is based in China, faces an extended deadline of Sept. 27 to meet President Trump's order that it sell TikTok's U.S. operations or be banned. The deadline comes after a messy week of conflicting statements about TikTok's future ownership from ByteDance and Oracle. The business software company and Walmart are seeking a deal with ByteDance to create a U.S.-based company that will run TikTok.
The deal with NASCAR likely precedes the recent controversy over the app's ownership. The company saw a surge in TV viewership when it resumed races after pausing operations amid pandemic lockdowns, and one was one of few providers of live sports entertainment in early summer. However, NASCAR faced greater competition when the NBA, MLB and NHL resumed operations. With the return of college football on Saturdays, fans have even more choices of live sports to watch. Previously, NASCAR ran social media contests with sponsors Busch Light and Oscar Mayer.